Naoko Miyamoto is a full-time MBA student working on a Spring 2014 International Business Development project in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. Her team, H2 (Helping HELP), is working with the Haitian Educational & Leadership Program (HELP) to develop a training program for their Personal Development Advisors team.
Our team had a rather unique IBD experience, first being assigned to a project in China and later switching to a completely new project in Haiti with less than one month before starting in-country travel. The mental shift from Shanghai to Port-au-Prince was a rather large one, but our team has succeeded in adjusting accordingly. Perhaps it was the live band welcoming us as the Port-au-Prince airport that did the trick.
Heat, extremely unreliable access to the internet, limited space, and essentially no understanding of Haitian Creole can’t hold us down though. We have made great progress with in-country interviews, especially after the delayed arrival of Quentin, our resident French language expert (American Airlines…mechanical problems…fail).
Our client, Haitian Educational & Leadership Program (HELP), provides scholarships to low-income, high-achieving Haitian college students. In addition to their university courses, HELP students are required to take English, IT, and Leadership courses through HELP instructors. I thought we were busy as Haas MBAs, but these students’ schedules put us to shame! HELP also employs several Advisors that help these students adjust to new university life (living in dorms, managing their stipend, new romantic relationships, etc.). Haas IBD has been brought in to assess the Advisor program and develop a training program for these advisors.
Completing several interviews and conducting a survey among the students will help inform our strategy going forward. Perhaps the highlight of this experience so far has been applying what we’ve learned in the classroom to this project. We went through the design thinking process from the Problem Finding, Problem Solving course with the advisors to identify challenges of and solutions to the advising program. HELP staff and students were intrigued with our resulting whiteboard with probably hundreds of post-its. (If there’s anything I’ve learned about design thinking on consulting projects, it makes your client think you’re being extremely productive!)
Getting a better understanding of the Advising Program strengths and challenges, one Post-It at a time.
Outside of work, we’ve tried to avoid the pouring rains to get out of the hotel, drink Prestige (delicious local beer now owned by Heineken!) or rum punch, and generally experience life in Port-Au-Prince. Chicken Master has become our lunch option of choice (to the entertainment of HELP staff), and we’ve learned that the privilege of being driven everywhere is actually a necessity for all ex-patriots here. Other organizations’ vehicles spotted to date: International Red Cross, United Nations, Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam, and U.S. Agency of International Development (USAID).
Other exciting moments include visiting University of Quisqueya and Ecole Superieure d’Infotroniq d’Haiti (University of Information Technology in Haiti), two of the private universities here, visiting the HELP student “dorms” (aka beautiful homes with many bunkbeds), and getting fresco (shaved ice) with Smyrne, Director of Student Affairs at HELP and HELP alumna. Luckily for us, Thursday nights at our hotel are THE place to be in Port-au-Prince: the band RAM plays Haitian music and people from all over PAP (locals and ex-pats alike) come to dance. We befriended Argentines (in a tango band!), Brazilians, and a yoga instructor from Washington, DC.
Team H2 (L-R) : Pablo Bosch, Quentin Barber, Naoko Miyamoto, and Jing Wang visit University of Quisqueya in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
While at first I was concerned we wouldn’t get to immerse ourselves in Haitian culture due to safety concerns and our lack of language abilities, it turns out that by virtue of working on this project, we are learning more about Haitian culture than we ever could have imagined. We cannot provide meaningful recommendations for HELP without first understanding the environment in which these students grew up in nor understanding Haitian culture in general. Sometimes, the most meaningful information reveals itself during casual conversations over dinner – it’s important to remember that informal interactions with the client can be an incredibly valuable use of time (not to mention the delicious foods and amazing rooftops bars they take you to!).
Week 1 in Port-au-Prince has been full of pleasant surprises and we can’t wait to see what else this exciting city and HELP has in store for us! With that, we are off to Wahoo Bay this weekend to explore and relax!